What to do When Preschoolers Talk Back

When preschoolers talk back, it takes parents by surprise and poses a challenge. Most lose their temper and tell their child to ‘shut up’. But, is it the right way to curb the habit?

By Arun Sharma  • 6 min read

What to do When Preschoolers Talk Back

As children grow up, they learn to become independent stepping away from the shadow of their parents. And, the first signs of children exhibiting their independence becomes visible in several ways, both desirable and undesirable. One of the undesirable ways through which a child seeks to exert his independence is by talking back. Talking back is not necessarily verbal. It has many nonverbal forms as well like rolling the eyes, stomping, gritting the teeth and so on. In some cases, talking back can be a way of grabbing the attention of parents when the child feels that he is being neglected. If allowed to go unchecked, this unwanted habit can take root and lead to several problems, primarily conflict and embarrassment. Let’s look at what you should do to nip this habit in the bud in your preschooler.

1. Analyse your communication style: Most of the time, children model their behaviour after their parents. So, analyse your own communication style. Is your approach an authoritarian one, where you are ordering, directing and correcting everyone around you, especially your spouse and child. If so, then change the way you communicate. A wrong communication style breeds resentment and anger in those at the receiving end, and maximises the chances of talking back.

2. Offer choices: Preventing children from doing simple things that they like, or imposing your choices or opinions upon them can give rise to chances of back talk. Therefore, allow your child a certain degree of independence. Offer your opinions in the form of suggestions, thus giving your child the freedom to make a choice but still stay within boundaries set by you.

3. Look for specific triggers: There can be some factors which trigger the habit of back talk in your child. For example, she may be doing so when she feels tired or irritated or hungry. Prevent such situations so your child doesn’t have any reasons to talk back. Remember the old adage, ‘Prevention is better than cure’.

4. Stay calm and don’t respond: Overreaction from parents to any specific behaviour tells a child that he can get their attention by indulging in such an act. So, when your child talks back, stay calm and don’t show that you are alarmed or angry; convey your disapproval and disconnect yourself from him. For example, tell your child, “I don’t like it when you say such words or talk rudely. You can talk to me when you are ready to talk politely.”

5. Set clear limits and consequences: A preschooler understands the difference between good and bad behaviour. However, it is sometimes difficult for him to understand when he is exceeding his limits and being disrespectful. So, be specific and point out to your child the instances when he should not answer back but accept what you are asking him to do. For example, tell him, “You should not say ‘no’ when I ask you to go to bed at night.” Also, tell him about the consequences that he may face when he indulges in back talk the next time.

6. Follow through with consequences: After you set the limits and explain the consequences to your child, if she still continues with the habit of back talk, take action. Do not back down, no matter what your child says or does. Remind her why you are taking the action to reinforce the fact that bad behaviour always leads to adverse consequences.

Parents never want their children to behave badly, yet children do pick up bad habits. And when it happens, it’s up to parents to set their children back on the right path. This can be done in a gentle and positive way. 

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.